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California

He kept watch over L.A.’s $1.2-billion homeless housing bond. Now he is stepping down

Miguel Santana
Miguel Santana, who spent more than two years leading the citizens panel overseeing L.A.'s homeless housing bond, Proposition HHH, is stepping down this week.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

For years, Miguel Santana has been a gently scolding figure on homeless issues at L.A. City Hall.

In his job as city administrative officer, Santana helped draft the $1.2-billion homeless housing bond measure, Proposition HHH. After leaving that post, he spent more than two years leading the citizens committee overseeing the program, prodding Mayor Eric Garcetti and housing officials to address rising development costs and the slow pace of construction.

Now, Santana is stepping down. While he does not yet have specific plans, he told The Times that he intends to work on broader strategies for combating homelessness and play a role in rethinking the region’s approach to the crisis.

“I’m interested in being part of an effort that takes a step back and evaluates how we’re doing, what progress have we made, what are the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.

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Despite the committee’s repeated calls for urgency, the bureaucratic process has proven difficult to speed up. The first project funded by Proposition HHH is slated to be completed later this year — roughly three years after voters approved the measure. After that, about 2,000 units are scheduled to open each year for the next three years.

“We’re not at a point where we should be celebrating what’s been done,” Santana said. “The public’s frustration and anger around what they’re seeing as a lack of progress is legitimate.”

On the citywide homelessness crisis, he added: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

At Friday’s meeting, Santana’s last, the oversight committee is expected to review new proposals for allocating the last of the Proposition HHH bond money. At that point, funding will be in place to help finance about 7,000 housing units.

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One committee member voiced disappointment over Santana’s departure.

“I give him credit for pulling that small committee together to push for innovation, for helping to keep the flame lit through every meeting,” said Kerry Morrison, who was until recently executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.

Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said the mayor is working to fill the position. “Miguel Santana has done an excellent job leading the Prop. HHH Citizens’ Oversight Committee, and helping us make sure we’re using every dollar of that funding as efficiently as possible,” he said in a statement.

Friday’s meeting will also mark a pivotal moment for Garcetti’s team, which is expected to announce the winning bids in a $120-million innovation challenge to complete 1,000 housing units within two years. The committee proposed the challenge last fall in a search for alternatives to the conventional model for developing homeless housing, which is slow and increasingly costly for builders.

The lengthy process of setting up the challenge, requesting proposals and sifting through the bids has frustrated committee members. Still, Santana, who regularly voiced dissatisfaction with the city’s bureaucracy, said he had nothing critical to say about Garcetti.

“I think the mayor has made this his most significant issue and he’s committed a lot of resources and galvanized the public sector, philanthropy and others to invest in this issue,” Santana told The Times. “The challenge that he faces is the systems are still designed around a model of the past. The systems themselves aren’t designed around urgency.”

Santana will continue to serve on the boards of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation and the Weingart Foundation — all of which have been working to address homelessness. He also said he will keep shaping public policies.

“It’s important we are constantly evaluating,” he said, “and not simply celebrating the progress that’s been made.”

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Santana will continue in his current role as president and CEO of Fairplex, the nonprofit that runs the Los Angeles County Fair and other events.


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